Challenges in getting permits, increasing regulations and managing contaminants and environmental controls are some of the biggest challenges landfill operators face every day. Industry experts weigh in on best practices to manage these issues and remain in compliance.
“One of the greatest challenges is the permitting of these facilities,” says Brian McAllister, project manager III for Civil & Environmental Consultants (CEC) based in Phoenix. “The general public continues to be opposed to having waste control facilities permitted in their neighborhoods. This has resulted in landfills being sited in locations that are a significant distances from population centers. As a result, the permitting of transfer stations close to population centers has increased.”
Increasing regulations also have created additional operational challenges for landfill operators. Leonard Joyce, president of Richmond, Va.-based Joyce Engineering, cites inexperienced and untrained regulatory compliance inspectors as the problem.
“Having site managers and operators who understand regulations, why they exist and having a thorough understanding of their operating permits. Also having trained and licensed managers and operators as well as trained and licensed compliance inspectors,” are the most effective ways to staying compliant he says.
Eliminating contaminates from the disposed or processed waste stream and controlling costs associated with environmental controls are other challenges landfill operators face.
“As individual landfills grow in size, leachate and methane gas generation also increase. The cost to treat and dispose of these byproducts can be significant,” says McAllister. “Fortunately, as technology improves, a landfill owner’s ability to manage these costs has also improved. Landfill gas, for instance, can now be captured and utilized as a renewable resource. … What was once a cost of doing business is now developing into a revenue source and new line of business. Leachate management continues to be a significant cost impacting landfill profitability.”
To combat thee challenges, operators must implement effective business strategies. CEC officials say that vertical integration is the most successful business strategy for landfill operations.
“While vertical integration can increase revenue, it can also allow the operator more control of what goes into the landfill to avoid future issues,” says Henry Kerfoot, principal at CEC.
“Landfills are generally most successful when the owners of the landfill also own the collection company in the market that the landfill serves. This helps ensure that waste collected in that market is directed and disposed of at the public or private-owned landfill,” he says. “Many municipalities and counties instituted flow control measures to ensure that waste collected in their areas of governance was disposed of in their landfills. … Controlling the waste stream helps ensure a reliable and steady flow of waste into the facility. This steady flow of waste into the site provides the revenue necessary to pay for the cost of capital and operations resulting from permitting, environmental compliance, and day-to-day operations.”
Joyce says he thinks a client-centered business is the most successful.
“This means providing our clients with exemplary service and creating value for them with our services and deliverables,” he says. “Opportunities are for waste management facilities to operate safer and stay in regulatory compliance while improving their financial performance.”
Other opportunities for landfill operations to grow and innovate include methods to increase in-place density of waste, which helps extend site life.
“Methods to increase density are always a consideration. This is increasingly important due to the cost and difficulty in permitting new landfill facilities. There has been an ongoing debate whether pushing uphill, pushing downhill, or filling on a flat area provides the greatest impact to in-place waste density,” says McAllister. “There are arguments and operational considerations to support each of these methods. It ends up being an operator preference. At the end of the day, the number of machine passes over the waste, the moisture content, and the size or weight of the compactor are the biggest contributors. There will always be a need for a bigger, heavier landfill compactor to maximize density.”
Kerfoot says that the management of waste acceptance through vertical integration and/or careful assessment of waste streams can help avoid future issues.
“Having a reasonable written policy with procedures for identifying and managing unacceptable waste and having trained personnel to implement the policy and procedures” are important waste acceptance practices, according to Joyce.